“The Memory Card” is a seasonal feature that dissects and honors some of the most artistic, innovative, and memorable videogame moments of all time.
I can’t believe this is the fourth season finale of the Memory Card. I remember writing this feature for the first time more than three years ago. Wow. Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess. Anyway, thanks to everyone for reading, commenting, and ultimately supporting this series after all these years. It means the world to me.
With Memory Card season finales, I like to focus on moments from more recent games that have an extra dramatic impact on me. For me, focusing on a recent moment not only allows the opportunity for gamers of all ages to reminisce, it reassures me that videogames -- and the emotions they elicit -- are still going strong.
For this season finale, I chose to focus on a moment that is unlike any I have ever experienced in a videogame before. I may even go so far as to say it is in the upper tier of my favorite videogame sequences of all time. I really love it that much.
The moment is in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for the PlayStation 3. Since this moment makes me unbelievably emotional on several levels, I am just going to keep it simple and say hit the jump. I don’t want to embarrass myself or jam one of keyboard keys with any lone, shame-filled tears. This moment is haunting, beautiful, innovative ... yeah ... just hit the jump. You won’t regret it and certainly won’t ever forget it.
Have a happy and safe New Year! See you all next season!
In what was originally intended to be a conclusion to the revered Metal Gear Solid series, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was released for the PlayStation 3 back in the summer of 2008. Following the critically-acclaimed Metal Gear Solid 3 for the PlayStation 2, Metal Gear Solid 4 had a lot to live up to. Not only did it have to, at the very least, equal the quality of its magnificent predecessor, it needed to somehow tie up the amazingly convoluted story and offer a conclusion that was satisfying to fans.
Metal Gear Solid 4 delivered on every level.
I already covered a classic moment from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on The Memory Card before (the epic final battle between Solid and Liquid!), so if you want to get a fuller view of the game’s story, click here for that article. For this week’s feature, I will just be talking about events leading up to this specific moment.
Whereas Metal Gear Solid 3 was a prequel to the series (putting the player in the role of main character Big Boss), Metal Gear Solid 4 returns to continuing the story in the rugged, well-worn boots of series mainstay Solid Snake.
Having aged to the point of becoming wrinkly and gray because of the lethal biological weapon FOXDIE that runs in his blood, Snake starts Metal Gear Solid 4 feeling that he is near the end of his life. After traveling to many different locations over past adventures (including, but not limited to, Shadow Moses in MGS1 and Big Shell in MGS2), Snake is feeling the weight of the men he has killed and the impossible tasks he has been forced to complete.
In Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake is sent on a mission (both for his colleagues and himself) to once and for all put an end to antagonist Liquid Ocelot, Snake’s series-spanning nemesis who is determined to control a complicated form of nanomachines called the “Guns of the Patriots.”
This being a Metal Gear Solid game, things get complicated fast, but never so much to feel entirely overwhelming. I guess that is one of the reasons the Metal Gear games are so great.
Unlike previous games in the Metal Gear Solid series, Guns of the Patriots is structured in multiple acts, each act taking place at a different location. While this helps progress the story and constantly changes up the look and feel of the game, switching between locations prevents Metal Gear Solid 4 from ever really having the “open-world,” non-linear structure of, most notably, MGS1 and MGS2. In those two games, one main location was used throughout, allowing Snake (and, in turn, the player) to wander back and forth to discover new secrets in the same environment.
This is not so much a complaint about Metal Gear Solid 4 as it is an observation about how different it is in the series. It also helps to mention this as it sets up what makes this Memory Card moment all the more powerful.
In his quest to pursue Liquid, Snake begins his epic, technically flawless trek through Metal Gear Solid 4 in the Middle East. Here, he partakes in a huge battle and meets up with some old friends (and enemies), some not seen since the days of Shadow Moses in the original Metal Gear Solid.
After finding out the information he needs, Snake heads to South America and Eastern Europe in the next two acts, respectively. Besides being filled with the expected breathless set pieces and unforgettable moments, Acts 2 and 3 further the story established in MGS4 and help tie up the many loose ends that have been dangling throughout all the Metal Gear Solid games.
At the very end of Act 3, along a river in Eastern Europe, Snake is confronted by Liquid and his goons. The bloody and dramatic confrontation leaves Snake with a horrible burn, and even worse, finds one of his allies dead.
Before making his escape, Snake plants a robotic device on Liquid’s ship. Before it is destroyed, it sends a last minute transmission to Snake informing him of Liquid’s next move. Liquid plans on retrieving a non-IDed warhead and using it to send out a nuclear strike using the railgun from Metal Gear Rex. For people unfamiliar with the series, Metal Gear Rex is the massive robotic weapon Snake battles at the very end of the original Metal Gear Solid.
Snake’s plan to stop Liquid before he finds the warhead is obvious. What is not so obvious is the location that Liquid chooses to retrieve this nuclear warhead from. It is here when this week’s Memory Card moment occurs: The return to Shadow Moses.
As you can tell by the name of this Memory Card, Snake finds out that Liquid is returning to Shadow Moses to steal the warhead. Shadow Moses is the location of the original Metal Gear Solid.
On his way to the facility, while flying in the helicopter, Snake has a vision of his original journey through Shadow Moses. In a brilliantly creative decision, the flashback Snake has can be fully controlled by the player. Even cooler, it is displayed in the graphics of the original PlayStation, giving the sequence a completely authentic feel.
As Snake reaches Shadow Moses in his flashback, it is like the player is experiencing the original game all over again.
Before he makes it too far, though, Snake is woken up as the helicopter hovers above its destination.
After being dropped off in the middle of a snowy mountain top, Snake slowly makes his way through the ridiculously thick flurries towards the old facility. The snow pounds on his old face as he makes his way around dying trees and over sharp rocks.
The snow is thick, making visibility almost nonexistent. Because of this, Snake doesn’t immediately recognize his surroundings. Through the cold wall of snow, the angled cliffs don’t look familiar to Snake.
It isn’t until he makes his way around one clearing when everything falls into place.
As soon as Snake journeys around a large rock wall, the snow lets up, revealing before him an all-too-familiar site.
Snake’s boots leave the crunching snow and land on a hard, metallic surface.
Standing before Snake is the heliport of Shadow Moses -- the exact same place he started his adventure in the original Metal Gear Solid.
Although every last detail is intact, things have aged dramatically since the facility was abandoned many years ago. As Snake walks around, key locations trigger flashbacks that, literally, flash on the screen, showing the memory Snake has of the original game. For example, when he sees an old, broken security camera gathering rust, the game flashes a vision of the same camera in the original Metal Gear Solid, functioning good as new. This happens several times as Snake walks around the iconic entrance to Shadow Moses.
On top of all this, small sounds clips are played from the first game. They are very subtle and sometimes almost unnoticeable, but when coupled with the rousing, familiar musical score playing in the background, the entire sequence will make the hairs on any Metal Gear Solid fan’s arm stand up straight.
After taking in all the surrounding memories, Snake eventually finds a way into the abandoned facility.
What follows is an Act that will go down in history as one of the most accomplished, ingeniously designed stages in videogame history. Snake infiltrates Shadow Moses, fights with new and old enemies alike, catches up with Liquid, and even boards and battles inside the Metal Gear Rex -- the same Metal Gear Rex he encountered in the original Metal Gear Solid.
As the Act comes to a close, Snake is beaten and bruised by everything that has occurred. Despite all his losses, he heads into the dramatic conclusion of Metal Gear Solid 4 more determined than ever to finally stop Liquid Ocelot once and for all.
You can watch Snake’s glorious return to Shadow Moses right here: (Keep in mind that a video does not do this moment justice. It really needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.)
Even though the game tells you ahead of time that Act 4 will take place in Shadow Moses, as a player, you have no idea what to expect until the grand reveal finally happens.
And, my gosh, that reveal is handled brilliantly.
The Act begins impressive enough, with Snake having a flashback of his experience in the original Metal Gear Solid. The use of old graphics and gameplay is absolutely incredible. To be honest, I originally thought the entire Act was going to play out using this presentation. When it is revealed to be just Snake’s dream as he is heading to Shadow Moses, though, it is surprising and still very satisfying. What felt like a dream actually is!
After dropping from the helicopter, Snake makes his way through an extended sequence in an unrecognizable mountainous area covered in snow. I knew that Shadow Moses in the original Metal Gear Solid took place on a snowy mountaintop, so I figured the entire level would revolve around this blizzard-riddled area. I never in my wildest dreams thought Snake would actually return to many of the same locations seen in the first game.
Oh how wonderful it was to be so wrong.
First off, choosing to start the Act in this none-too-familiar, almost generic setting is ingenious. It places the player in a state of confusion, just as Snake is confused about where he is in the thick snow.
But then it happens.
The moment Snake makes his way around the rock wall and sees Shadow Moses for the first time in years is almost indescribable.
It is a videogame moment for the ages.
Everything falls perfectly into place in this sequence, with creator Hideo Kojima being the reason it all works so well.
Every beat is meticulously structured to ensure the player is emotionally affected in just the right way. First, there is the obvious: the visuals. Seeing the scene meticulously recreated in fancy, high-def graphics is simply superb. And the entire environment is constructed exactly as it was in the original game. Every building, every staircase -- it is all the same.
Then the layers start to unfold as Snake makes his way around the helicopter landing area.
Sound bites from the opening sequence of Metal Gear Solid begin to echo with the harsh winds.
Flashbacks fill the screen showing moments so fondly remembered from the original Metal Gear Solid.
And then the kicker. The beautiful, haunting musical score flourishes to life, blossoming with equal parts emotion and nostalgia.
Hideo Kojima has a unique way of tearing down the fourth wall and making the player feel like they are part of the videogame experience that is happening on-screen. Instead of using (awesome) parlor tricks like with the classic battle with Psycho Mantis, with the Shadow Moses sequence, Kojima relies on a player’s memories of the original game to sync their emotions with Snake’s. As Snake sees everything on Shadow Moses and remembers what originally happened there, so to does the player.
Can you think of any other time this has happened in a videogame? It is very rare for a videogame sequel to revisit an old location to begin with, but even when they do -- as with Banjo-Tooie or God of War II -- the moment of revisiting is more harmlessly memorable than emotionally powerful enough to almost make you cry.
That is why Hideo Kojima is a genius and a master of the art of videogames.
And, yes, I said cry. There are many splendid moments in Metal Gear Solid 4, but no other touched my heart more. Granted, I am a giant fan of the Metal Gear Solid series, so I was already emotionally invested, but never before had the series done something that left me ... I don’t know ... speechless.
Seeing Shadow Moses in ruins, abandoned after all those years, was as devastating as it was magnificent. It truly made the series feel even more alive than it already had. It made all the events Snake took part in so many years ago feel real and significant. All the things that happened were written on the walls of Shadow Moses. Every moment Snake experienced remained a part of Shadow Moses’s troubled, haunted soul.
And you, as a player, feel all of this as you travel through the sad, empty facility -- mostly because of the memories that are triggered from seeing familiar sites, but, most importantly, because the game (under the brilliant hand of Hideo Kojima) weaves these memories for you.
Hideo Kojima is a twisted genius, this can be said regardless if you are a fan of the Metal Gear games or not. But with the return to Shadow Moses sequence, he really shows just how brilliant he is.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is a magnificently tragic masterpiece that, when you think about, bases a lot of its emotion on the memories of things past. Whether it be the reunion of old characters, the reliance on tried and true gameplay, or, in this case, the return to familiar locations, the game perfectly concludes an experience years in the making. Snake returning to Shadow Moses is the perfect example of this.
I get chills just thinking about.
Thanks again for reading the fourth season of The Memory Card, everyone! All your comments and feedback mean so much to me. I love you all like a family I have never met. And, in my mind, it’s the most attractive family EVER!
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